Sunday, 10 February 2013

Lorenzo Monaco and Monastic Late Gothic Art in Florence.

The evolution of Florentine painting has always been tied together with that of the religious orders. The late fourteenth-century artist Spinello were patronised by the Benedictines; Lorenzo Monaco painted for the Camaldolese; and most famously, Fra Angelico undertook commissions for the Dominicans at San Marco. Monaco is an excellent painter for studying the contradictions inherent in Florentine painting as we pass into the quattrocento. Though not documented, Lorenzo was probably born in Siena, but seems to have resided for most of his professional career in Florence. Lorenzo Monaco is recorded in Florence in 1392, before Masaccio was born or before Gentile di Fabriano arrived in the city, about 1422.  Despite his Sienese origins, there is not much trace of the influence of that school upon his works. As Federico Zeri has stated, “Lorenzo Monaco’s style belongs to the history of Florentine painting, and to Florence alone.”[1] Furthermore, Monaco’s style is “ ..a kind of grafting..of the world of Giotto between 1320 and 1340. “Frederick Antal served up a much more complicated stylistic stew arguing that Monaco’s art demonstrated the “Sienese-Gothic influence,” a current that he associated with other Sienese artists such as Simone Martini, Lippo Memmi, and Bartoldo di Fredi.[2] Comparing Monaco’s Annunciation (Acad., Flor., 1410-15) and Gentile’s Adoration (Uffizi,  ), both altarpieces would be examples of “late Gothic”, although Gentile’s betrays more of the “international style.” According to Antal, the many-sided nature of Lorenzo’s art reflects the taste for art by the affluent and less-well off- a monastic type of Late Gothic art.[3]  The art of the earlier artist Starnina, throws an interesting side light on this monastic kind of painting in which hermits persevere in the wilderness, which is probably even more meditative in nature than Monaco. According to Antal, Starnina’s Thebaid “was the first Florentine panel, other than a predella, to dispense with the gold background” in favour of “ordinary atmospheric tones.”[4]

  Gentile di Fabriano Adoration of the Magi, Tempera on wood, 300 x 282 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Lorenzo Monaco, The Annunciation, 1410-15, Tempera on panel, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence.


[1] Federico Zeri, “Investigations into the Early Period of Lorenzo Monaco – II,” The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 107, No. 742 (Jan., 1965), pp. 2-11, 8.
[2] Frederick Antal, Florentine Painting and its Social Background (New York, 1948), 316. For the problems with Antal’s method, see Millard Meiss’s review, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Jun., 1949), pp. 143-150.
[3] Ibid, 317.
[4] Ibid, 322.

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